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How Your Building Is Your Killing Your Growth

Senior pastors typically underestimate the impact their building has on their church’s future growth.

Building Too Late

Church planters believe the lie that they don’t need a building to grow, ignoring the fact that your chances of survival begin to plummet drastically after year six outside of a permanent facility (whether owned or leased). We will always find growing church plants past that age in rented/temporary facilities, but those outliers are breathing rare air.

Senior pastors of established churches, likewise, face their own unique challenges.

Expecting a Silver Bullet

Many assume that simply “rallying the troops” and building a new building, or relocating to another location, will automatically ignite growth. What happens, more often than not, is the increased debt and facility expansion doesn’t overcompensate for the fact that the church hasn’t addressed the underlying issues that stalled their church’s growth in the first place. As the old Buddhist proverb states, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Inevitable Bottlenecks

Others assume they can overcome the size limitations their facility places on their ministry. The rule of thumb when it comes to facilities is that there are three things that impact a church’s ability to grow: parking, seats in the auditorium and children’s ministry space. If any one of those three becomes a bottleneck, it is worth considering expansion.

What many realize, too late, is that expansions in these areas rarely cause growth. They simply allow it to keep happening if it is already occurring.

Too Much Room

Still, others are often in the unenviable position of having too much space in their worship area stemming from building too big or shrinking in size. Ministry friends will tell you what a delight it is, Sunday after Sunday, to have too few people in a room three times too large.

Growing churches always manage to keep their seating occupancy vs. capacity in the “40-80 zone” (never allowing their services to drop below 40 percent seating capacity and rarely more than 80 percent capacity). Allow your services to drop below 40 percent of your seating capacity very long and you’ll eventually sputter out. Push the envelope beyond 80 percent very long and you stop retaining new people, in addition to losing existing attenders.

There are two more issues facing Senior pastors of churches in their own permanent facilities that are more devastating than the others combined: ugly facilities and excessive debt.

Too Much Debt

Church leaders often succumb to “magical thinking” when it comes to buildings. While they might argue for months over how to save money on facility maintenance, it’s astonishing how quickly leaders will go into debt without fully mapping out how that added weight will impact the church’s future five, ten, 15 and 20 years on down the line. I’ve seen the allure of quick potential growth cause even the most financially astute leaders to make dumb financial decisions. Beware of that siren’s call.

Holy Cow That’s Ugly

When one looks at “church” from a neutral, purely sociological perspective, “church” is nothing more than a building that human beings gather in. Rarely do people frequent stores, restaurants, doctor’s offices and the like that have ugly facilities. We have a word for those entities in our culture: “CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.” Why should your facility be any different?

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I’m the founding Senior Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in the suburbs of Philadelphia. In 13 years the church has grown from a small group in my home to over 2,000 incredible people. Before that I served in churches of 25 to 600 in attendance. I love church planters and pastors of smaller churches, and totally understand the difficult challenges they face as they try to help people find their way back to God.